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DC's Black Label mature readers imprint was originally called Jokerverse, according to Brian Azzarello

DC is named after Batman's founding title, and DC's other imprint was almost named after the Dark Knight's archnemesis, the Joker

Image credit: Lee Bermejo (DC)

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The Joker is arguably one of DC's top five most recognizable characters, hero or villain, but what do you think about a whole line of books named after him? It almost happened - and when it didn't, it did go on to inspire what is one of DC's biggest growth areas in the past decade. What started it all was a graphic novel called Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo.

Published in 2008 as a one-off original graphic novel, Azzarello and Bermejo's Joker became a critical and commercial success. To the point DC reframed their previous series Lex Luthor: Man of Steel as a sister book, and commissioning a sequel called Batman: Damned. But according to Azzarello in an interview with Popverse's Dave Buesing, the success of Joker also inspired what would become DC's current mature-readers imprint, Black Label.

"Joker, my and Lee's book, was used as an example, saying 'This is what we want to do with the other characters,'" Azzarello tells Popverse. "Before it was called Black Label, it was called Jokerverse - just sort of floating around. But not where every book is Joker."

Azzarello says that his and Bermejo's Joker book, and the revisionist approach it took to a classic DC character, became a way to convince those within the offices of DC and its parent company Warner Bros. how it could be turned into a formula for future hits.

"It was just a way for the powers that be to grasp what they were trying to push," says Azzarello. "Actually, I bet if they said, 'Well, we're going to call it Jokerverse now,' because Joker's worth so much money, they'd say,' Yeah!' It's become so crass."

The term 'Jokerverse' later became the un-official name for the DC cinematic timeline started by the hit 2019 film Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix. Intended as a one-off film, the success spawned the sequel coming this fall, and even the director Todd Phillips pitching DC on a line of films in the mold of the Joker called 'DC Black Label' featuring other DC characters re-envisioned in this light.

That same title, DC Black Label, was ultimately the name DC chose for the proposed Jokerverse of books in 2018, with the Azzarello and Bermejo's Joker sequel Batman: Damned as the flagship first title.

Read Brian Azzarello's full interview with Popverse here.

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Chris Arrant avatar
Chris Arrant: Chris Arrant is the Popverse's Editor-in-Chief. He has written about pop culture for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel, Newsarama, CBR, and more. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. (He/him)
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